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ST. PETERSBURG — Dan Wright would like to fade from view.
That way, there would be none of the hugging, the wet eyes, the searching glances from friends, staff and players wanting to see if he was all right.
Better, there would be none of those invasive questions from reporters trying to tunnel under his reserve and unearth some sense of satisfaction:
What are your emotions, Dan?
How do you feel?
No, the Lakewood boys basketball coach would give plenty to avoid what Saturday night’s Class 4A region final against Fort Myers has become — a headline event:
Wright on the verge of county win record!
If the Spartans win at Eckerd College, Wright will tie former Gibbs coach Freddie Dyles for the most wins in Pinellas County boys basketball history with 674. It is a milestone that would be a tribute to his career.
Does he enjoy it? He would be the last one to say it.
“I’m trying not to even think about that,” Wright said. “This is a big game because it’s the region final, one game away from getting to the state tournament.”
To the self-effacing Wright, this is exactly what Lakewood (22-7) did not need. The game against the Green Wave (25-5) already is big enough. Fort Myers has been ranked 4A’s No. 1 in the Associated Press state poll most of the season.
Wright would rather keep the focus on the game. He is not after any attention-grabbing ploy that might give his team an edge. He does not want a spectacle.
“Coach cares about winning, but he’s not all into individual wins” Spartans guard LaDarius Barnes said.
“It’s more about the team.”
That’s why Wright has given the ultimate poker face when asked about his record.
“County record, huh?” Wright said. “I knew I was up there in wins, but I had no idea what my record was. I don’t even remember the scores of most games.”
The achievement has not been a big deal at school because no one knows about it. Wright has not said anything, not even to his administration.
“Really?” Lakewood principal Dennis Duda said. “Wow! I never knew.”
“Are you kidding? Dan Wright say something about that?” Spartans athletic director Javan Turner said. “That’s not Dan. That’s not his style.”
A man of few words, Wright has remained a quiet winner who reveals little of himself to the public.
“Coach is always preaching to us to keep our head on right and stay humble,” Barnes said. “He doesn’t want us celebrating too long after a win.”
Wright played for Dyles and was on the 1972 Gibbs team that won a state title. He went on to play at Florida Southern before coming back to St. Petersburg to coach. At Lakewood, he has averaged 20 wins a season for more than 30 years. He is one of only 10 coaches in the state to reach 600 victories.
“Coach Dyles was a mentor to me,” Wright said. “A lot of the things he instilled in us I’ve passed down to my teams.”
As the clock winds down Saturday, Wright likely will still be speaking softly and going over details of the game. And if Wright happens to win, everyone will head for him as he heads to the middle of the court.
And if given the chance, Wright will deflect such praise.
After all, there’s the next game to worry about, another lineup of opposing players to dissect. And, of course, there’s dreaded complacency to battle before it takes hold.
“I’ve never put a lot of emphasis on individual awards,” Wright said. “I’ve always been that way. I never got into this to receive awards or a pat on the back. I just try to keep quiet and do what I do.”
Boys basketball region finals
Admission is $6.
Class 6A, St. Petersburg (23-6) at Orlando Dr. Phillips (21-5), 4 p.m.: The Green Devils advanced to the third round of the playoffs for the first time since 1972, when they reached the state semifinals. St. Petersburg will again be at a height disadvantage. So the Green Devils will rely on the outside shooting of Allen Wilson and Gabe Moton, and the defensive play of Jerry Poindexter-Brown.
Class 5A, Clearwater (24-5) at Sickles (27-2), 7 p.m.: The Tornadoes have not lost since December and are in the region final for the second straight season. The Gryphons have not lost since the first week of January. The big matchup will be the guard play. Clearwater’s Cory Carden and Sickles’ Jordan Davis are two of the best in the area.
Class 4A, Fort Myers (25-5) vs. Lakewood (22-7), at Eckerd, 7 p.m.: The Green Wave has just one loss in the past two months and is averaging more than 70 points per game. Fort Myers’ lineup is balanced, with no starter averaging more than 13.5 points. Lakewood, after a late-season stumble, is playing its best basketball of the season.